#WNYVotes 2015

Mark_Poloncarz

Mark Poloncarz cruised to an overwhelming victory last night, defeating Assemblyman Ray Walter 65% – 34%. As a karmic aside, Poloncarz accomplished what Chris Collins couldn’t – re-election to that post.  In Lancaster, the town’s Republican slate – including thuggish incumbent supervisor Dino Fudoli – fared pretty horribly. Winning 58 – 42, Democrat Johanna Metz Coleman will become the town’s first female supervisor, and Democrat Diane Terranova will become town clerk. It was almost a clean sweep for the Democrats, and a humiliating rebuke for the Fudoli experiment.

What Fudoli seems to have learned from his erstwhile mentor Chris Collins is that western New Yorkers’ patience for obnoxious and thuggish political behavior has a short window.

Yesterday, an off-duty police officer coming in to vote at a fire hall in Lancaster overheard and accused Fudoli of muttering something about punching him in the face, and confronted him. It’s unknown whether Fudoli will be prosecuted, but it was emblematic of his ugly, bellicose, and childish behavior. The spectacle culminated in Fudoli and a representative from the Lancaster Police Benevolent Association calling in to Tom Bauerle’s show to explain their side of the story, Fudoli acknowledging he said something about punching the officer out, and that he had apologized. The gentleman from the PBA went on to explain Fudoli’s complaints about alleged police harassment by going into some detail about “suspicious vehicle” calls that prompted those incidents.

Western New York and Lancaster will be better off without Fudoli in elected office. I’m sure that “good government” and “good person” are not mutually exclusive.

Ray Walter – a good person – will go back to the Assembly and lives to fight another day. His campaign for County Executive was a bit quixotic, his sales tax proposal was fundamentally cynical, and he sell the idea of jettisoning a competent and hard-working incumbent. His inability to break 40% speaks volumes about Poloncarz’s continued political aptitude, both in policy and salesmanship.

We shouldn’t be electing judges at all, judicial candidates shouldn’t have to pander to an electorate, and cute ads with their kids hardly gives you an idea of a judge’s temperament or qualifications. Brenda Freedman defeated Kelly Brinkworth to go to Family Court, helped along by an ability to get her name on every fusion line while Brinkworth was only on the D line. No one voted for Freedman or Brinkworth on the merits, because no one had a clue about their respective merits. This was all about ballot placement and electoral fusion.

The County Legislature will maintain status quo, with Democrat Tom Loughran defeating challenger Guy Marlette, and Ted Morton easily defeated Democratic challenger Deb Liegl, in a hotly contested race.

On Grand Island, only two votes separate the two town supervisor candidates, so voting does matter. In West Seneca, incumbent Sheila Meegan defeated challenger Christina Bove. In something of a spectacle, apparent RINO Carl Paladino, in an email co-written by his dog, endorsed Democrat Meegan. The nexus of West Seneca shenanigans right now is that Scott Congel project by the Thruway near Ridge Road.

In Niagara Falls, incumbent Democrat Paul Dyster won re-election to become only the second three-term mayor in Niagara Falls history.

Finally, I watched with some interest that two TV stations use a Buffalo native but current New York City resident as a Democratic analyst. This person is a professional lobbyist and has been disloyal to Erie County Democratic Headquarters since Steve Pigeon was deposed from his chairmanship 15-ish years ago. (As an aside, this lobbyist wrote a book. At the book’s website, there were three glowing reviews; one from the author’s former boss, and the other two came from two newspapers the author co-owns). This person’s somewhat predictable analysis was that pretty much everything – any prospective result – was going to be bad news for Erie County Democratic Committee chairman Jeremy Zellner.

While the Democrats couldn’t seal the deal in the Liegl and Brinkworth races – in both cases due in part to the Republicans outmaneuvering the Democrats in setting up the minor fusion party lines – I think Zellner had a pretty good night, as his close confidant Mark Poloncarz won an overwhelming victory. Maybe WKBW and Time Warner Cable could find a more loyal, and local Democrat to comment on Democratic politics, they don’t seem to have a problem extending that courtesy to Republicans.

Buffalopundit Endorsements 2015

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Greetings, Goodenoughistan!

Usually around this time of year, I do a list of endorsements. I try to have fun with them; last year, whilst writing for a competing publication, I did my endorsement in verse.

Despite a high-profile County Executive race, this has been a very sleepy election season. Turnout will likely be pretty low – 20% is optimistic. That means that fully 80% of the eligible and registered electorate can’t be bothered to take literally a few minutes out of their day to exercise their franchise. People have fought and died for your right to vote. You pay lip service to supporting the troops for protecting our freedoms, but here you’re handed the right and ability to control the future direction of your town, city, and county, and chances are you can’t find five minutes between 6am – 9pm to fill in a few scantron boxes and feed your ballot into a scanning machine.

As far as being a responsible citizen of a representative democracy, voting is quite literally the least you can do. Yet 80% of you won’t do it.

You people who are registered to vote, but don’t bother – you’re useless. You should be ashamed. You’re a disgrace. Go to elections.erie.gov and find out where you’re supposed to vote, and go. Plenty of campaigns and party committees will give you a ride if you need one – just ask them.

Here are my endorsements. They are mine alone, and do not in any way represent the opinion or decision of the Public, its authors, editors, or publishers, nor of the place I work, nor of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, where I am a member of the board of trustees.

County Executive

Mark Poloncarz is a personal friend of mine. I met him in 2003 when I was working to elect Wesley Clark and he was working to elect John Kerry. We then served together on the WNY Coalition for Progress. I have lit dropped for him, campaigned for him, and my firm represents the County in a small handful of cases. I also know and like Ray Walter. I don’t know him as well as Mark, but he’s a good guy – a mensch, I once called him – and he went to the Thruway with specific questions I once asked on Twitter.

Both of these candidates want the county to do well. Mark, however, is my pick.

Big surprise, right?

Substantively, do you remember when Republicans wanted a county manager as part of the charter revision process a decade ago? The elected County Executive would be sort of a charismatic leader, promoting the county, while a non-partisan professional manager would run the day-to-day operations. Mark Poloncarz is a policy wonk and a guy who is a strong and effective manager. He is as close as you’re likely to get to a day-to-day manager looking for ways to improve the delivery of county services, and also a tireless promoter of our region. He’s incorruptible, and he loves what he does, not afraid to get into the weeds of county government.

Ray’s hilariously named “fair share” tax proposal is an effort to rob from the poor to give to the rich and not-so-poor. Population alone isn’t how the 3% permanent sales tax revenue was meant to be shared among the various municipalties, and Ray’s effort to pit city vs. suburb when that’s pretty much the last thing we need to do is shameful. His shoot-first-ask-questions-later effort to scandalize a non-scandal also called his seriousness and judgment into question.

Judicial Races

A lot of people have complained about how the party bosses pick the judicial candidates, thus depriving the electorate of a choice.

My response: the electorate shouldn’t be choosing judges in the first place.

You don’t get to elect federal judges. Many other states also have governors appoint judges as vacancies come about. In Massachusetts, a nominating commission submits a name to the governor, who then passes it along to an elected “governor’s council“, which vets the candidate for qualifications and likelihood of impartiality, and then approves the lifetime appointment. The judge chosen never has to pander to voters, concoct silly commercials with their kids, or make any sorts of promises of any kind.

The judicial branch should be free from campaigns and elections, and you shouldn’t have to vote for a judge because of a cute video with their kids in it.

County Legislature

There are only two competitive races: Morton v. Liegl and Loughran v. Marlette. If Loughran holds on to his seat and Liegl defeats Morton, the legislature swings to a one-vote Democratic majority. Ted Morton has already been vetted based on his questionably ethical and un-declared loans from financial planning clients, and the electorate shrugged. For his part, Morton tried to smear Liegl with the taint of “fraud”, but it backfired because it was completely untrue. Yelling “fraud” is a lot easier than explaining the ins and outs of bankruptcy law, but the Republicans played too fast and too loose with the facts, as they did when accusing Poloncarz of being under some phantom investigation.

The attack pieces against Liegl are far more misleading. Those pieces accuse her of “bankruptcy fraud,” “cheating the system” and “concocting a scam.” A Buffalo News review of the claims found none of that to be true.

…David Jaworski, an attorney for Liegl and her family, called the Republican allegations “untrue and libelous” based on his personal knowledge and investigation into the records. Republicans have been unable to produce any other supporting evidence of their claims, beyond the initial bankruptcy trustee claim.

Morton’s ethics are questionable, his required disclosures were incomplete, and he essentially lied about his opponent. I don’t know what more you need.

As for Loughran, that’s easy: Loughran is sufficiently independent (he’s pissed the Democrats off here and there), and is a knowledgable and likeable business owner who definitely deserves re-election.

Town of Lancaster

If you live in the town of Lancaster and you vote for Dino Fudoli, I don’t  know what’s wrong with you. Mr. Fudoli is a petty and vindictive glibertarian who considers government to be the “enemy” and public employees to be moocher/taker garbage. In December 2014, Fudoli blamed the people who got stuck in the Snowvember storm for their own predicaments. Fudoli whined about a lack of county plows, but he never requested any using the decade-old computerized system towns use to do so – a system he ostensibly oversaw whilst in the County Legislature.

Fudoli is now fighting with the police union in his town because why not.

And Dino Fudoli doesn’t think it’s important for him to pay his property taxes on time, or possibly at all.

If you live in Lancaster, this is the best 8 minutes you’ll spend today:

If Fudoli thinks it’s unfair for the Department of Environmental Conservation to declare his property a wetlands, then he has the right and ability to bring suit for whatever redress to which he’s entitled. Nothing gives him the right unilaterally to stop paying his property taxes, nor does it explain his refusal to pay the property taxes on his former residence.

Who is thug “Richard Heaney”?

When a taxpayer fails to pay property and school taxes on time, the county must make the town and district whole, and then has to chase the delinquent taxpayer down. This sort of behavior is unconscionable from a public official and disqualifies this person from public office. Fudoli also took a very important stand in favor of maintaining a blatantly racist team name for the high school. He also doesn’t know how the internet works.

Polls are open from 6am – 9pm on Tuesday the 3rd of November.

Find your polling place and candidate choices here.

Please go vote like your democracy depends on it.

Political Shorts

1. SAFE ACT: Not Dead

Earlier this week, the Federal Appeals Court for the 2nd Circuit upheld most of New York’s and Connecticut’s firearms statutes passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. Anti-gun control groups brought suit challenging them, and they now plan to appeal this partial defeat to the Supreme Court.

One might ask, what part of “shall not be infringed” does the 2nd Circuit not understand?

The court found that banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines comports with the “important — indeed, compelling — state interest in controlling crime.” It continued,

“When used, these weapons tend to result in more numerous wounds, more serious wounds, and more victims. These weapons are disproportionately used in crime, and particularly in criminal mass shootings,” according to the ruling written by Circuit Judge Jose A. Cabranes. “They are also disproportionately used to kill law enforcement officers.”

The three-judge panel noted that the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in December 2012 occurred when 154 rounds were fired in less than five minutes, killing 20 first-graders and six educators and renewing a nationwide discussion on the role of guns in America and how to diminish the threat of large-scale shootings.

The court upheld a lower court’s ruling striking down the 7-round limit in 10-round magazines. The SAFE Act contains a severability clause, so if any portion of it is stricken down by a court, the remainder survives and remains in effect. The list of SAFE Act provisions is broken down here. Its purpose is to avoid and prevent mass shootings such as the one at Sandy Hook elementary where a lone terrorist shot and killed twenty little kids within seconds. It does this by limiting the types of weapons that can be bought and possessed, requires registration of some, mandates that mental health professionals report to authorities if they believe a patient might be planning to commit a violent crime, and requires background checks for all firearms and ammunition purchases. From the Buffalo News,

The court rejected the arguments by the plaintiffs – which included the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the Sportsmen’s Association for Firearms Education and other groups, businesses and individual gun owners – that the law “will primarily disarm law-abiding citizens and will thus impair the very public safety objectives they were designed to achieve.’’ The court said there is a “dearth of evidence that law-abiding citizens typically use these weapons for self-defense” and that the state tailored the two key components of the law “to address these particular hazard weapons” that it said has a higher chance when used to inflict more numerous and serious wounds to more people than other weapons.

The court said there are still “numerous alternatives” for people to purchase weapons with magazines capable of holding up to 10 rounds and to use them for self-defense. “The burden imposed by the challenged legislation is real, but it is not severe,” the court ruled.

While the Supreme Court in DC v. Heller affirmed an individual right to bear arms, (thus jettisoning the “well-regulated militia” language in the 2nd Amendment), the decision clarified that, like other rights, the right to bear arms is by no means absolute.

Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms

The right to bear arms is further limited to weapons, “in common use at the time”. Heller stands for the principle that people can own weapons for personal protection in the home, and since handguns are in “common use”, they cannot be banned altogether. On the other hand, military grade weaponry such as machine guns, tanks, RPGs, etc., can be, should be, and are banned from personal possession and use. The 2nd Amendment isn’t an absolute and unlimited right, just like the right to free speech doesn’t protect libel and the right to free exercise of religion doesn’t protect Rastafarian pot use.

2. All Quiet on the Preetsmas Front?

The investigation into campaign finance illegality that led to the May 28th raids of three prominent political operatives is still very much alive, despite the expiration of the statute of limitations for any misdemeanors. Rumor has it that state and federal investigators are excitedly trying to wrest a Pigeon associate from being represented by a private lawyer, and to convince him instead to take on a public defender and turn state’s evidence against his (former?) associates. This person knows where a lot – if not all – of the figurative bodies are buried, so if this succeeds, it would be huge. Law enforcement has to prove that these guys didn’t simply accidentally forget to make necessary election disclosures in the proper way, but that they knew exactly what they were doing, and that it was part of a continuing, chronic scheme to trick and defraud opponents and the public at large. It’s not over yet.

3. Vice President Biden

The Vice President announced that he would not be running for President in 2016, and gave a heartfelt barn-burner of a speech that left a lot of Democrats wishing that he actually was. Biden is a centrist Democrat who has fought for the beleagured middle class his entire career. Hillary Clinton and the Freedom Caucus and the entire GOP Presidential slate take note:

I believe that we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart. And I think we can. It’s mean spirited, it’s petty, and it’s gone on for much too long. I don’t believe, like some do, that it’s naive to talk to Republicans. I don’t think we should look at Republicans as our enemies. They are our opposition. They’re not our enemies. And for the sake of the country, we have to work together.

Hillary Clinton is breathing easy, not only because Biden is out, but the Benghazi witch hunt is unraveling hour by hour in advance of her second round of testimony about a tragedy – not a scandal.

4. Canada goes Trudeau

Stephen Harper’s 9 year-long government is over, he will stay as an MP but resign as head of the Conservative Party he helped to re-formulate. As so often happens in left/right North American politics, the grueling 11-week Canadian general election pitted Harper’s fear against the hopeful vision of Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau. With a clear majority, Trudeau can form a majority government and actually implement the policies for which he advocated. The parliamentary system may not be perfect, but it’s certainly fairer and more efficient in many ways than ours.

5. Wikileaks

Let’s say you believe it’s wrong for the NSA to have the ability to snoop on people’s emails and phone calls and text messages, etc. We can agree that warrantless government searches of the substance of people’s private communications is illegal. So, in what way is it newsworthy or reasonable or fair for Wikileaks to publish the private emails from CIA Director John Brennan’s personal AOL account? No one has found or identified any classified or secret information there – it’s all private stuff, including his application for a security clearance that contains intimate details of his personal life. Wikileaks obtained the information from hackers – criminals – and is simply publishing it all for everyone to see. Wikileaks defenders, defend this. You can’t. It’s a stunt designed to keep these people relevant.

If you want to understand what Wikileaks is, consider this, from John Schindler: Wikileaks is a front for Russian Intelligence. There exists no other reasonable explanation at this point. One need only compare Wikileaks’ published secrets of the Russian Federation vs. the secrets of the United States it has revealed.

An important gap has been filled this week by Julian Assange, who admitted that Snowden going to Moscow was his idea. Ed wanted to head to Latin America, Julian asserted, especially Ecuador, whose London embassy Assange has been hiding out in for years on the lam from rape changes in Sweden. As Assange explained, “He preferred Latin America, but my advice was that he should take asylum in Russia despite the negative PR consequences, because my assessment is that he had a significant risk he could be kidnapped from Latin America on CIA orders. Kidnapped or possibly killed.”

Only in Russia would Ed be safe, Julian counseled, because there he would be protected by Vladimir Putin and his secret services, notably the FSB. One might think that seeking the shelter of the FSB — one of the world’s nastiest secret police forces that spies on millions without warrant and murders opponents freely — might be an odd choice for a “privacy organization.” But Wikileaks is no ordinary NGO.

Now, the private phone numbers and social security numbers of innocent private civilians are being revealed by this phony, hostile “privacy” organization. Its justification for publishing the substance of all of Brennan’s AOL emails is weak, if it exists at all.

Just because you enter public life doesn’t mean that it’s ok for a hostile government’s PR arm to publicize your personal emails. Wikileaks has proven Schindler’s thesis beyond reasonable doubt.

One Buffalo and the Resentment Industry

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When I moved to this area in 2001, WNY was economically and politically in peak “old Buffalo” malaise, treading water while the world largely passed it by. Since then, the region’s journey forward has been pretty epic. Old, intractable problems still persist, but the region has made amazing strides in terms of finding its way into the 21st century.

Except for the Peace Bridge. For some reason, we remain stuck on the question of improving access to our well-to-do neighbor.

At the beginning of the aughts, the city of Buffalo was the region’s financial basket case, lumbering towards an inevitable control board’s oversight while suburbia touted the seemingly miraculous financial stability of then-Erie County Executive Joel Giambra’s county government. He cut taxes and maintained services, even taking over the maintenance of city parks from the hurting city.

The 2005 red/green county budget fiasco blew up the county’s charade, revealing that our perception of its comparative fiscal stability was artifice, built with finite tobacco settlement windfalls. The county soon found itself with its own control board, and a region that really couldn’t afford the hit found itself brought to its knees.

Since then, both the city and county have righted their financial ships and things are looking up. Neither Buffalo nor Erie County hold an exclusive monopoly on prudent governance. The specter of 2005 still looms – no one is eager to repeat it.

Regionalism as an idea was killed due to politics – chauvinism, patronage, and racism. We hit rock bottom with two control boards before we could right ourselves, but the state recognized that a strong region is anchored by a strong city.

Erie County remains a segregated place where poverty and minorities are concentrated within distinct parts of the city of Buffalo. There remains a tendency to focus on what divides us, rather than what unites us. Racism still plays a huge role in our political reality, logic gets turned on its head as well-to-do white people play victim, and craven politicians exploit that.  It’s us vs. them; we pay our taxes while they get their Obamaphones and welfare and Medicaid and HEAP and SNAP and WIC. It’s downstate’s fault, so they demand secession.

Blame the poor, blame the immigrants, blame African-Americans, blame the city they live in. Here in Erie County, the artificial divide between city and suburb is best used to further inflame already toxic arguments about who pays, and where it goes. Proud city folks denounce the suburbs as homogeneous or racist repositories of boredom whose sprawl is killing everyone. While largely apathetic, suburban voters can easily become inflamed by rhetoric about socialism and redistributive financial policies.

It’s easy to hate the people you think are taking advantage of you. It’s easy to hate the “other” – people who don’t look or live like you. The easy way out is secession. Separation. It’s why we’ll never have a unified countywide school district or a metropolitan form of government to replace our current, corrupt menagerie of taxing districts.

I guess it makes political or strategic sense to divide and conquer, but it’s not leadership. Leadership is taking what divides us and finding common ground. Leadership is about listening to the people and implementing policies that will help as many as possible while doing as little harm as necessary. Leadership is rejecting the easy way out or divisive rhetoric and understanding that a County Executive, for instance, must serve the whole county; not just the ones that will vote for him. Leadership means finding solutions to intractable problems and not blaming the victims.

In a way, that’s what’s so brilliant about Ray Walter’s “fair share tax” plan, which would seek to abolish a 1977 agreement on how the 3% permanent county sales tax is shared. Campaign issues don’t get more obscure or wonkier than this. The pitch is that Erie County’s cities receive more in sales tax revenue per capita than the suburbs. The agreement can be modified wth consent of the parties, or canceled unilaterally with one year’s notice. Mark Poloncarz says that subsequent state control board legislation forbids the county from canceling the contract; Walter disagrees.

If you’re most people, you never even heard of this before. You have no idea who’s right. Nobody cares.

The whole thing has to be dumbed down literally to capture anyone’s attention, but suffice it to say that it makes sense that the county’s three cities receive a larger share of the sales tax revenue because the need is greater. If you want to parse and analyze Walter’s plan to redistribute the cities’ share to the suburbs, re-read Bruce Fisher’s piece from mid-September. There, Fisher noted,

…neither the Erie County executive nor the executive plus the legislature has the power to change the sales tax distribution. All the recipients would have to agree. Then the State of New York would have to agree.

During the debate between Poloncarz and Walter, there was some back-and-forth about Walter’s plan, and far from acknowledging that the scheme is anti-city, Walter would have us believe that cities would benefit.  Yet in one breath, Walter argues that the cities are making out like bandits, getting twice per capita what towns get from the 3% sales tax, but in the next, his plan “spreads prosperity to every corner of the county and does not pit communities against one another.”

Re-formulating the sales tax sharing plan isn’t conservatism; figuring out a way to abolish the sales tax altogether would be conservatism. This is just double hypocrisy: 1. Walter says Poloncarz only helps the communities that vote for him, yet Walter’s signature policy propsal does exactly that; and 2. Walter wants to avoid pitting suburb vs. city by robbing the cities to throw more cash at the suburbs. That’s not going to work. It will accomplish the opposite, and he’s stoking these divisions.

Put it this way: if Walter’s tax plan was fair, the mayors of the three Erie County cities would have lined up to support it. Their silence and absence is deafening. When I asked a Walter partisan on Twitter about this, here is the response:

Ultimatum. Hostage-taking. How does that meet the goal of “not pit[ting] communities against one another”, as Walter claims? It doesn’t. It’s a noxious idea borne out of a base desire to exploit suburban prejudices and anxieties; to punish the “takers”, who are the most vulnerable and needy in our shared community.

A conservative way to tackle tax equity and poverty and lifting all boats probably exists, but you won’t get it from this Walter campaign. This is the stuff that fuels the local suburban talk radio resentment industry. Setting up a re-do of Empire Zones to spur investment in blighted communities isn’t the problem – access to jobs and credit are the root problems.

By the time the debate was over, the two campaigns’ themes had become quite clear, and the difference between them couldn’t be more stark. Poloncarz was advocating for One Buffalo – the notion that we’re all in this together; that a strong city helps the whole region, and vice-versa. That we can do great things when we work together towards a common goal of making Erie County a better place to live and work. In the last 15 years, we’ve made incredible strides towards that goal – progress that would have seemed unthinkable to you in 2001.

On the other hand, we had a campaign that threatens the cities with ultimata over dramatically reducing their share of the sales tax despite the need for that revenue. Walter’s campaign wants no part of “One Buffalo”, instead very clearly delineating a pure vision of suburban “real” Buffalo versus the crime, blight, and poverty of the inner city. The aspiration isn’t unity, but division. It’s not too dissimilar from how, in the aughts, the suburbs condescended to poor, beleagured Buffalo, while burning through budget-balancing tobacco settlement one-shots.

We can do better in this community than to pit white against black, rich against poor, city against suburb. WNY’s resentment industry is perhaps bigger even than the Medical Campus and SolarCity combined. It’s time it shrank.

Waltergate

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On Tuesday – on the eve of the WNED debate between incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz and his Republican challenger Ray Walter, City & State published this article:

That was it. Multiple sources were telling City & State that there was an ongoing investigation involving your typical western New York brand of petty corruption – bid rigging for road work projects. The article as it first appeared – reproduced above – didn’t go into many details, except to pre-emptively exonerate Poloncarz and his administration of any misdeeds.

The Republicans, however, pounced so quickly and so heartily, you’d almost suspect they knew it was coming.

Frantically trying to gin this up a bit more? Yep. But also giddy. They were giddy. Can you blame them? Whether you like or hate Poloncarz, his honesty as a political leader is his stock in trade. If he’s not likeable, he’s competent, and to poke holes in that perception would certainly help the Republican candidate, who is running to be County Executive of WBEN’s listenership (which is, on a good day, around 10% of all people listening to the radio at any given time). 

Literally within minutes of the City & State story being published, Ray Walter’s campaign was busy readying the hay, complete with an allusion to Watergate!

Ringing alarm bells isn’t serious leadership. It’s grasping for headlines and an effort to manufacture controversy and relevance. The meme was carefully crafted within moments of the City and State article’s appearance. Poloncarz is a crook! Poloncarz’s administration is under investigation! Why is Poloncarz covering up this investigation into his administration? Why won’t Poloncarz speak publicly about an investigation being conducted by the Attorney General’s office? Why all the secrecy? Why the cover-up? What is he hiding? 

City and State later updated its original story several times, resulting in this newer, more complete version that includes quotes from various and sundry people, including Poloncarz and a spokesman for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

Getting Schneiderman’s office to respond must have been quite the feat, you’d think at first blush. After all, it has a policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations. The trick here is that there is no ongoing investigation. It’s over. So, knowing what we know now, let’s examine the Republican quick-memes, and judge how well they’ve held up in under 24 hours’ worth of factual scrutiny: 

 

Poloncarz is a crook!

No, he’s not. 

 

This administration runs a clean administration,” Poloncarz said. “We became aware of certain potential improper actions leveled during the final years of the Chris Collins administration. We performed an internal investigation and we turned that information over to the state attorney general’s office for them to perform a more definitive investigation to determine whether inappropriate actions were taken in the Department of Public Works in 2010 and 2011.

 

 

Poloncarz’s administration is under investigation!

No, it’s not. 

 

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on Tuesday responded to a report of an ongoing probe, saying that the only investigation into the county Department of Public Works he was aware of stems from actions during 2010 and 2011, which predate his administration.

 

 

Why is Poloncarz covering up this investigation into his administration?

He’s not. It’s not. 

 

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office has confirmed that it investigated alleged bidding irregularities at the Erie County Department of Public Works, but Schneiderman’s office also said that its probe of the county agency is now closed. 

 

 

Why won’t Poloncarz speak publicly about an investigation being conducted by the Attorney General’s office?

Easy! Because (a) the investigation didn’t involve anything that happened during Poloncarz’s administration; (b) because Poloncarz is not the Attorney General and has no business commenting on or publicizing an ongoing investigation being conducted by a state agency; and (c) it’s not being conducted because it’s closed. 

 

Why all the secrecy?

 

Poloncarz, reached by phone, said his office began its investigation into bid processing shortly after he took office in 2012 and turned over the results of the probe to Schneiderman’s office in January 2013.

 

 

Why the cover-up?

 

On Tuesday afternoon after this story was published, the attorney general’s office said it had investigated the matter but had closed the case.

 

“In January 2013, County Executive Mark Poloncarz requested that our office look into alleged past issues related to competitive bidding for projects at the Erie County Department of Public Works,” the Schneiderman spokesman said in an email. “After a thorough review, and with the full support and cooperation of County Executive Poloncarz, our office closed the case with no further action.”

 

 

What is he hiding? 

 

Poloncarz, reached by phone, said his office began its investigation into bid processing shortly after he took office in 2012 and turned over the results of the probe to Schneiderman’s office in January 2013…

…On Tuesday afternoon after this story was published, the attorney general’s office said it had investigated the matter but had closed the case.

“In January 2013, County Executive Mark Poloncarz requested that our office look into alleged past issues related to competitive bidding for projects at the Erie County Department of Public Works,” the Schneiderman spokesman said in an email. “After a thorough review, and with the full support and cooperation of County Executive Poloncarz, our office closed the case with no further action.”

 

What did Poloncarz know and when did he know it? He knew that a Collins appointee had acted improperly when it came to roadwork contracts, and he knew in 2012. He then contacted the proper authorities – the Attorney General’s office. Not just because it was a matter for law enforcement, but because it would be unseemly for Collins’ successor and rival to investigate these specific allegations. 

Every single allegation – every attempted smear – turned out to have been completely false. But not only was it all false, but the overheated, reflexive over-reaction from Walter and his surrogates seems nothing less than childish now. In less than 24 hours it went from them screaming bloody murder to Bob McCarthy explaining that it was a Democratic-led probe into misdeeds under the previous Republican administration, with which Walter was closely aligned

 

The attorney general’s statement contradicted the Walter claim that a state investigation was currently in progress, which he based on a Tuesday report in City and State magazine.

“We know an investigation is going on; it’s been reported,” Walter claimed at a hastily called news conference Tuesday afternoon in Erie County Republican Headquarters.

When asked if he knew for sure an investigation was ongoing, he replied: “I know what I read in the article.”

Walter also suggested Schneiderman was working with Poloncarz to cover up a probe he said had been kept “secret.”“Is he protecting a political ally?” Walter said. “He very well may be.”

 

and 

 

Poloncarz said he didn’t further pursue the investigation himself, or publicize it, because he didn’t want to influence or compromise the Attorney General’s investigation, he said, and he didn’t want it to appear as if he was “kicking dirt” on defeated Republican incumbent Chris Collins.

Poloncarz noted that he changed the top leadership of the Department of Public Works after he took over, though the change was not precipitated by the probe.

To his knowledge, he said, no one in the department has been disciplined or fired for improprieties related to the Eden Evans Center Road project because the Attorney General’s Office has issued no finding of criminal conduct, and the county did not have definitive proof of wrongdoing.

 

It is a palpable testament to the competence and professionalism of the current administration that the best Walter can do is jump the gun and falsely accuse Poloncarz of a Watergate scandal before the facts are in; to reflexively try and make up a controversy where none exists.

 

It’s not so much Watergate as it is Waltergate – a scandal only in his mind. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Buffalo Connect: WiFi from 1999

BuffaloConnx

In a partnership with UB and M&T Bank, the city of Buffalo unveiled free outdoor WiFi along the Main Street corridor this summer, to much fanfare.

The ribbon-cutting was in mid-July, accompanied by hopeful comments, including this from Mayor Brown:

If downtown Buffalo is going to be a thriving engine of opportunity for all city residents, we must find ways to support the entrepreneurs who are driving technological advances and creating jobs. By providing city residents, members of the business community and visitors with free public Wi-Fi, we will continue to attract more people and business to downtown Main Street, while making targeted investments to improve our city’s wireless infrastructure.  I thank M&T Bank for leading the effort to engineer, purchase and install the system in partnership with the City of Buffalo and the University at Buffalo as we work together to further strengthen our economy.

I would submit that it’s not entrepreurs along Main Street who need broadband, but the poorest of the poor. Some of the region’s fastest publicly accessible internet is found at any branch or location of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, with speeds – up and down – that exceed 20 Mbps. Noting that 58,000 people work downtown every weekday, here’s what M&T’s Robert Wilmers had to say:

Every day it seems, downtown Buffalo is adding new residents, new employers and employees, new visitors, new and redeveloped buildings—and now new public Wi-Fi.  Buffalo Connect will make downtown Buffalo an easier place to stay connected, and that’s good for our City, and for the people who live, work and visit here.

With a major presence on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the University at Buffalo provided fiber assets and expertise in network engineering design and management. University at Buffalo students also helped design the new logo and digital experience for Buffalo Connect.

“This is a great time to be in Buffalo—whether you are working here, studying here, or coming to visit and enjoy all our great city has to offer. UB is excited to partner in the expansion of our region’s Wi-Fi capabilities to better serve the people in our downtown corridor each day. This network will be a terrific asset to our community, and we are proud that we can lend our leadership and expertise—including the involvement of our student engineers and artists—to make this regional fiber network a reality,” said University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi.

That’s a lot of technology and money backing this up.

The network operates through more than 30 “hot spot” access points running along Main Street. The access points, which have a range of approximately 250-feet, are now installed and operating from the Theater District through Canalside and Erie Basin Marina. Additional access points are being installed to extend the network to North Street, on the doorstep of the growing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

So, how’s it working? City of Light 2.0 decided to test it all out. The results are embarrassing.

Basically, it’s ridiculously slow. Even a tourist with no cellular data would find this to be an utter waste of time, and difficult to connect. In part 2 of its analysis, City of Light underscored that these sorts of speeds are what you’d have expected to get out of wifi in 1999. In fact, it seems as if speeds are capped at 2 Mbps, which is a tiny fraction of what you get from LTE on your cell phone.

…the reliability and strength of the signal from Buffalo Connect drops off quickly once you get off of Main Street.

Drawing from this key, we can see there’s a very fine line of green teal down Main Street, and pretty much everything else is blue. The areas that aren’t on Main Street are generally blocked by large buildings.

While on Main Street, there is a lot of background noise. Yet with all the background noise, it still has a strong signal. If you have potential for decent download/upload, but a lot of noise and/or interference, then you will likely experience slow or “unstable” connectivity that appears to drop. While on the Buffalo Connect network, while going up and down Main Street (the green areas on the map), and throughout Canalside, the connection consistently provided 1Mpbs and there was no drop in coverage.

To make matters worse, it appears that Buffalo Connect’s routers are quite expensive, retailing at about $1,200 each.

…a pretty penny was spent on these brand new routers, all to provide residents, businesses, and visitors to the area with a wireless network that we have trouble finding any practical value for.

On top of routers, there are other aspects to the network that would’ve cost the provider more money, such as the black boxes pictured behind the router, the lines to the router/black boxes also pictured, the lines from UB’s fiber, labor, weather-proofing, setting up firewalls, and basic network administration. While we’d have trouble estimating the total costs of all this, we can safely assume it wasn’t cheap.

To reiterate our thoughts from Part 1, Buffalo Connect is a lackluster network. As one can gauge from our further analysis, it has a lot of potential to be greater than it is. In Part 3, we’re going to investigate UB’s network to see how it influences Buffalo Connect’s performance.

It’s hard, sure, to quibble with the quality of a free service, but why tout the hell out of something that simply doesn’t deliver? And why doesn’t it deliver?

Ban Ki-Moon Could Have Been A Buffalonian

navyisland

Late last week, United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon came to Buffalo to speak to our various elites, and to do a little sightseeing.

Few people know that the UN’s headquarters was almost built on tiny Navy Island, nestled between Grand Island and the Ontario shore.

If you want to second-guess bad decisions from long ago, you can start with the plan from the 1940s that, had it been implemented, would have guaranteed that our region comprised of Southern Ontario and Western New York would have been an economic powerhouse.

Navy Island is an uninhabited green blip on the map. After World War II, as the United Nations was being formulated and ideas for its headquarters were being considered, Navy Island was a top contender.  Because of its location between – and easy access from – two friendly nations, Navy Island would have been a better symbolic choice for the UN than the East Side of Manhattan, and a less expensive, less congested one, as well.  Turning a small island over to a peacekeeping organization with deep pockets, turning it into an international zone employing and attracting tens of thousands of diplomatic, secretarial, and administrative staff to southern Ontario and western New York would have had a billion-dollar impact today.

The ancillary economic impact from all those well-remunerated people engaging in the local economy is unfathomable today, and would have attracted businesses, schools, investors, people, and money.

Instead, the UN is on the East River, on land bought with a donation from the Rockefellers.  Had the UN been located in WNY, I wonder how much different this region would be, how it would look, how it would have evolved.

 

NYS Announces Medical Marijuana Licenses

The New York State Department of Health today announced the five companies it will license to grow and produce medical marijuana. Here is the list:

medmar by Nick Reisman

None of the applicants from western New York were selected. This includes Lewiston Greenhouse, LLC, which had hired Steve Pigeon’s PAPI Consulting to lobby the state on its behalf. Lewiston Greenhouse fired Pigeon shortly after the May 28th state and federal raids of the homes of Pigeon, former Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, and Chris Collins’ Chief of Staff, Chris Grant.

Dan Humiston, the founder of the “Tanning Bed” chain also submitted a rejected application to grow marijuana in the former Tyson chicken plant in South Buffalo. It’s believed that Humiston is Pigeon’s landlord.

Out of 43 companies that submitted applications, three were from western New York.

The Illusion of Albany

3menI’m expounding a bit here on conversations I had Wednesday with people in the know. Recent events in Albany, namely the indictments of former all-powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the indictment of former also-powerful Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, have given hope to some that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is power-washing Albany’s filth and corruption, and that things might actually change.

Others lament just how little clout western New York has in Albany, and that with the exception of fawning attention from a governor who wants to add “turned Buffalo around” to his resume, we get scant attention from our state government, save the odd ribbon-cutting.

As for the former, consider that new speaker Carl Heastie and new senate leader John Flanagan are widely rumored simply to be puppets of their respective predecessors. Consider why it was that, at a secret meeting, Senate Republicans chose a fellow Long Islander to replace Skelos, over a Central New Yorker. Even Cathy Young of Olean backed Flanagan in exchange for a vague guarantee about changing the totemic NY SAFE Act. The Bronx’s Heastie, too, shares a general geographical similarity to his predecessor, Manhattan’s Lower East Side’s Silver. Nothing has changed but the faces and names – it’s all just transparent artifice and fakery.

Indeed, Flanagan has already told people not to expect any more of what Albany desperately needs – ethics reforms. Whatever mild reforms Albany made in recent months are too little, too late as it is, and an effort to close the notorious LLC loophole, which allows individuals to bypass campaign giving maximums, has died in committee.

More to the point, the quashing of Senator Dan Squadron’s bill to close the LLC loophole is courtesy of WNY’s own Senator Mike Ranzenhofer, who killed it in his corporations committee.

As for WNY’s lost clout, consider that any outsider coming here to campaign or raise money must tiptoe through a field of dog crap in order to do so. There is quite literally no way to come into WNY outside the area and not offend one of our many “mean girls” factions. Like middle school, you have to have pre-selected a clique, and be especially aware of whom you meet with first, because presumably all of this minutae matters to someone. When the hopeful pol boards his JetBlue flight the hell out of here, his shoes are encrusted with dog excrement.

There is nothing new under the sun, and there is no reform or significant change coming. Albany will stay corrupt and corruptable until there is some underlying incentive to undertake serious and widespread reforms – structural reforms like abolishing electoral fusion and eliminating the LLC loophole. Western New York will continue to argue amongst itself and fight over scraps, because anything else would seem too effective for our collective taste.

Winter Storm “Re-election”

walter

A few weeks ago, the Poloncarz camp did some internal polling regarding its chances (they were good) against a potential challenge from Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw or County Clerk Chris Jacobs. The latter’s numbers were better than the former’s, but Poloncarz still held a commanding lead. We can presume, based on Mychajliw’s and Jacobs’ rapid-fire exits from the County Executive’s race, that the Republicans conducted similar polling, and that its results were not dissimilar from Poloncarz’s own.

In their stead, it appears that Assemblyman Ray Walter is going to challenge Poloncarz. Jacobs sort of let the cat out of the bag yesterday by pledging his support for Walter, who hasn’t announced yet. Walter released a statement yesterday, indicating that he’s still thinking about it, but that he thinks it’s a winnable race.

(By way of full disclosure, I consider both Walter and Poloncarz to be friends, and I have donated money to both. The firm where I work defends Erie County in lawsuits, and Poloncarz recently appointed me – with unanimous legislative approval – to the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library board of trustees.)

I don’t think Ray has much of a shot, and he’s taking one for the team. Both Jacobs and Mychajliw enjoy more crossover appeal, yet neither of them are ready to mount a countywide challenge to Poloncarz. When he was in the legislature, Walter played the role that Joe Lorigo has now – that of snarky right-wing eye-roller. Ray’s nickname among Democratic legislators was “Rush”, as in Limbaugh. He’s more of an outspoken doctrinaire conservative Republican than Mychajliw or Jacobs, each of whom has carefully crafted an image and perception of being above partisanship, regardless of the reality.

For sure, Ray is well-known and liked in his Amherst home-base, but outside of there, he doesn’t come close to the name recognition that Mychajliw or Jacobs enjoy, nor has he really taken on an issue in the Assembly in such a way that gets him a lot of attention outside his district. Think DiPietro and guns. In recent weeks, Walter has been heard on WBEN and seen on his Facebook page taking on Governor Cuomo’s dubious education reforms, but the wheels are still spinning, and there’s not a lot of traction yet.

When Walter last ran he was challenged by Steve Meyer, a young newcomer Democrat who evidently gave him enough of a scare that Mike Caputo excoriated Meyer as a kid who should get a job. Another website, which has a habit of being wrong, wrote that Meyer had a real shot and that the race was a toss-up. In the end, however, Walter’s win was lopsided, as the incumbent received 20,852 votes to Meyer’s 14,641 – about a 60/40 split. Still, Walter’s not a charismatic cross-over candidate with crazy name recognition or deep pockets, and Poloncarz’s tenure has been, if not warm and fuzzy, then careful, responsible, and competent.

With the understanding, then, that Ray is a substitute for Chris and Stef – choice 3 of 3 – bullet-taking such as this can, for instance, earn people cush promotions like judgeships. I know that Ray has to say it’s a winnable race, but that’s unlikely. It’s a steep climb, and Ray has less than $5,000 in his campaign account against Poloncarz’s $422,000. Ray’s climb is also steep because he can’t – at this time – attract Democrats like Stef or Chris. We can’t really assess what Walter might do substantively as County Executive as compared with Poloncarz, mostly because the incumbent’s tenure has been effective and people are generally satisfied with the results he gets.

On Twitter last night, people were joking:

That seems about right.

But here’s a thought: where’s Ed Rath? He’s got money, and his name is already hanging out on the county shingle.

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